Statement from Access Living - November 17, 2021


November 17, 2021 | by Emma Olson

Infrastructure Bill Includes Accessibility Wins; Access Living Amtrak Advocacy Plays Role

Chicago – November 17, 2021 – A new $1.75 billion federal grant program to improve the accessibility of legacy passenger rail stations, and a seat for a person with a disability on the national board of Amtrak, are part of the infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed the into law Monday, marking a big accessibility win for disabled people nationwide. 

Also called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF), the new law infuses $1.2 trillion into efforts to modernize public transit, passenger rail, bridges, water systems, the internet, and clean energy. Improved accessibility of national infrastructure is a critical part of the work ahead.

“We are pleased to see the law include dedicated funds for accessibility improvements,” said Karen Tamley, President & CEO of Access Living, a leading disability advocacy and service organization in Chicago. “The support of the Chicago Transit Authority, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, and Representatives Chuy Garcia and Marie Newman helped make this progress for disabled people a reality.”

The legacy passenger rail grants will bring long overdue accessibility improvement dollars to older rail transit systems so that they can finally meet the accessibility requirements detailed in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed 31 years ago.

“It’s long past time for older rail stations throughout the country to be accessible,” said Laura Saltzman, Transportation Policy Analyst at Access Living. “In addition to making rail stations maintained by state and local agencies more accessible, the law’s impact on Amtrak is key because Amtrak offers critical travel options for many people with disabilities. This new funding, along with a disability advocate on the national Amtrak board will help drive forward the accessibility we need.”

The new Amtrak board seat will ensure that disabled people have a voice in governance and is an outcome of Access Living’s 2020 advocacy sparked by Amtrak’s attempt to charge $25,000 for two Access Living wheelchair users to ride from Chicago to Bloomington-Normal; the work of Senator Duckworth; and continued pressure from disability advocates nationwide for better inclusion. 

“There is still more work to do,” said Amber Smock, Director of Advocacy at Access Living. “Every transportation system should have a plan for accessibility improvements to existing systems to secure dedicated funds. “

In Chicago, an accessibility plan is already in place. Learn more about the Chicago Transit Authority’s All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP).